NY Times' Maureen Dowd Defies Her Paper's Reporting To Attack Susan Rice Over Benghazi

Maureen DowdIn an extended attack on U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice's potential candidacy for secretary of state, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd repeatedly contradicted her paper's reporting on the Obama administration's response to the September 11 attack on the diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya.

Right-wing media have repeatedly attacked Rice for suggesting in a series of September 16 interviews that the attack on the diplomatic facility resulted from a spontaneous uprising in response to an anti-Islam video -- statements consistent with talking points approved by the CIA at the time. Those attacks have increased as media have reported that Rice could be nominated to replace Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

In her November 18 column, Dowd writes that Rice “should have realized that when a gang showed up with R.P.G.'s and mortars in a place known as a hotbed of Qaeda sympathizers and Islamic extremist training camps, it was `not anger over a movie.” But the Timesown reporting indicates that the people who attacked the diplomatic facility have said that an anti-Muslim film prompted their attack.

The Times reported on October 15 (emphasis added):

To Libyans who witnessed the assault and know the attackers, there is little doubt what occurred: a well-known group of local Islamist militants struck without any warning or protest, and they did it in retaliation for the video. That is what the fighters said at the time, speaking emotionally of their anger at the video without mentioning Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden or the terrorist strikes of 11 years earlier. And it is an explanation that tracks with their history as a local militant group determined to protect Libya from Western influence.

The paper pointed to a statement from a spokesman for Ansar al-Shariah, the group that reportedly carried out the attack, which “praised the attack as the proper response to such an insult to Islam.”

Dowd also contradicts her paper's reporting when she suggests that the White House altered the talking points Rice was given for political reasons (emphasis added):

Some have wondered if Rice, who has a bull-in-a-china-shop reputation, is diplomatic enough for the top diplomatic job. But she would have been wise to be more bull-in-a-china-shop and vet her talking points, given that members of the intelligence and diplomatic communities and sources in news accounts considered it a terrorist attack days before Rice went on the shows. (The president and his spokesman also clung to the video story for too long.)

Rice should have been wary of a White House staff with a tendency to gild the lily, with her pal Valerie Jarrett and other staffers zealous about casting the president in a more flattering light, like national security officials filigreeing the story of the raid on Osama to say Bin Laden fought back. Did administration officials foolishly assume that if affiliates of Al Qaeda were to blame, it would dilute the credit the president got for decimating Al Qaeda? Were aides overeager to keep Mitt Romney, who had stumbled after the Benghazi attack by accusing the president of appeasing Islamic extremists, on the defensive?

But a November 16 Times article Dowd cites earlier in her column reports that while the talking points drafted by the CIA were edited to remove references to specific terrorist groups, according to Democrats present during former CIA director David Petraeus' closed hearing last week, Petraeus denied that those changes were made for political reasons (emphasis added):

Some intelligence analysts worried, for instance, that identifying the groups could reveal that American spy services were eavesdropping on the militants -- a fact most insurgents are already aware of. Justice Department lawyers expressed concern about jeopardizing the F.B.I.'s criminal inquiry in the attacks. Other officials voiced concern that making the names public, at least right away, would create a circular reporting loop and hamper efforts to trail the militants.

Democrats said Mr. Petraeus made it clear the change had not been done for political reasons to aid Mr. Obama. “The general was adamant there was no politicization of the process, no White House interference or political agenda,” said Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California.